Beneath one of the planet’s most spectacular skylines, the Windy City plays host to hundreds of world-famous tourist attractions. From a superb zoological park and the first planetarium in the United States, to a huge exhibition of Impressionist art and countless retail and sporting venues, there’s never a dull moment in Chicago. Almost 58 million visitors chose Chicago as a destination in 2018, making it the country’s second most-visited city. While tourists are sometimes hard to escape, here’s three tourist traps that are definitely worth adding to your to-do list.
The Art Institute of Chicago
Established in 1879, the Art Institute of Chicago is among the oldest and biggest art museums in the U.S. It welcomes over 1.5 million visitors every year who come to explore galleries dedicated to international art that stretch back some 5,000 years. The museum’s huge catalogue of 300,000 works includes the most extensive collection of Impressionist paintings founded outside of Paris’s Louvre Museum. So vast is the museum that the many permanent and temporary exhibitions spread throughout a series of eight buildings located in Grant Park.
If visiting for the first time then it’s advisable to pick up a map from the entrance in order to guide your way between the displays and crowds. There’s also free guided tours and rentable audio guides. Highlights include works by European masters such as Monet’s Water Lilies, Renoir’s Two Sisters (On the Terrace) and van Gogh’s Self-Portrait. Discover works by Edward Hopper and Mary Cassatt among the two floors devoted to American artists. There’s also exhibits of art from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome in addition to cutting-edge contemporary exhibitions.
Lincoln Park Zoo
Fancy getting up close and personal with creatures from the wild without having to spend a penny? Then head over to the Lincoln Park Zoo, where over 1,000 animals are housed in realistic recreations of their natural habitats. Not only is this 150-year-old zoo free, but it’s also open 365 days a year so you can come and meet its residents whenever you have the urge. Being one of the last-remaining free zoos in the country contributes to it receiving in excess of 3 million annual visitors.
Popular residents of the zoo are chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, and other apes and primates. Meet giraffes, pygmy hippos, and rhinos in the African Journey zone and eagles and vultures at the Birds of Prey Exhibit. Kids particularly enjoy seeing farmyard animals in an urban environment at the interactive Farm in the Zoo. There’s paid activities, too, such as a penguin encounter and a 5D virtual submarine ride.
Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower
Formerly—and according some locals, eternally—known as the Sears Tower, the Willis Tower rises 1,450 feet above downtown Chicago and is the second-tallest building in the U.S. Predominantly used as a modern office skyscraper, thousands of vacationers in Chicago also come here to enjoy unparalleled views from the 103rd-floor, 1,353-feet-high Skydeck Chicago. As well as stunning views of the Chicago skyline, Lake Michigan, and Grant Park, on clear days the visibility stretches across state borders to Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Be brave and step out onto The Ledge, a series of vertigo-inducing glass boxes that extend out from the tower’s walls. This is your change to experience a bird’s-eye view of the city like never before. Situated around the deck are touchscreen exhibits that take you on a journey through the history of the building and Chicago’s architecture heritage. Even getting here is an adventure via the high-speed, multimedia elevators.